globalization strikes back | Foreign Relations Council

Summer 2021 is largely defined by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and accelerating climate change. Both are manifestations of globalization and the reality of a world increasingly defined by the vast and rapid cross-border flows of just about everything from goods, services and capital to data, to terrorists and disease.

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Nowadays, few stay local for long. The deadly coronavirus that first appeared in Wuhan, China did not stay there, and greenhouse gases emitted everywhere are warming the atmosphere and the ocean everywhere.

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These two crises demonstrate the lamentable inadequacy of efforts to address the problematic aspects of globalization. The so-called international community has once again shown itself to be anything but a community. The supply of COVID-19 vaccines is below billions of doses of what is needed. Funds to pay for global immunization are also lacking in the billions of dollars. Governments prioritize their country, even as rapidly spreading variants emerge in under-vaccinated populations elsewhere and are indifferent to political boundaries.

As a result, the pandemic remains an intense threat. The death toll so far is believed to be over four million, but the actual figure is several times higher, in some cases due to flawed reporting systems and a deliberate underestimation by populist leaders in Brazil, India. , Hungary, Russia and elsewhere. The economic consequences are also significant, with the pandemic having reduced global GDP by more than 3%. About 100 million people have fallen back into extreme poverty. Inequalities between and within countries have increased.

What makes these developments all the more frustrating is that we know what to do about COVID-19 and have the means to do it. There are several safe and extraordinarily effective vaccines. It remains to increase production to meet global demand.

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In some countries, like the United States, what needs to be done is the opposite: increase demand to meet available supply. Reluctance to immunize, fueled by partisan politics or misinformation circulating on social media, television and radio, has grown dangerously. If the vaccination were supplemented with public health measures known to slow the spread of the disease – masking, social distancing, readily available and accurate contact tracing and testing, and quarantine – there would be far fewer and fewer infections. serious, and the pandemic as we know it would fade away.

The effects of the other crisis, climate change, came sooner than expected. For years, the tendency has been to delay any concerted response to the threat, despite clear and growing evidence that the planet is warming. As is often the case, the urgent has crowded out the important. But the summer of 2021 shows that climate change is both important and urgent.

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Globalization

Public health threats and pandemics

Climate change

Its effects are numerous. In the United States, wildfires in the West are spiraling out of control as temperatures rise and smog has blanketed swathes of the country. Europe and China are the scene of massive floods. In Africa, Latin America and the Middle East, there are signs of prolonged drought. The loss of life has been relatively modest, but it could well increase. The economic effects will also increase. The number of people internally displaced or forced to migrate is increasing sharply as large swathes of land become inhospitable to human life.

There’s a lot of talk about how to slow down or stop climate change, but that’s mostly it. The United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow in November will continue to emphasize an approach whereby each country voluntarily commits to reducing its emissions.

This is important, but it is evident that many countries are focusing more on economic growth at all costs and are unable or unwilling to adopt energy pathways that will significantly reduce their contribution to climate change. It remains to be seen whether there is a willingness to pass tariffs that raise the prices of products made in coal-fired factories, or to impose sanctions on governments that refuse to stop the destruction of tropical forests that consume carbon dioxide. It also remains to be seen whether richer countries are ready to make available the funds and technologies poorer countries need to shift to a greener energy mix.

At the same time, focusing on slowing the pace of climate change, as necessary as it is, is insufficient. Much of the climate change has already happened, and more will happen regardless of what is decided in Glasgow. Efforts to adapt to existing or unavoidable effects of climate change, so that cities and rural areas are better able to withstand the pervasive heat and sprawling forest fires, more frequent storms and floods, and greater more severe drought will also be needed. Resilience will be as important as prevention.

Finally, we must accelerate both the development and regulation of new technologies that promise to remove CO2 from the atmosphere or reflect sunlight away from Earth. Such potential responses to climate change are unproven and are controversial. But if the collective failure to deal with COVID-19 is any indication, we had better be prepared to consider them as soon as possible. There is no escape from globalization; the only question is whether and how we choose to manage it.


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Estelle D. Eden

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